3L, Recent Alum Earn Coveted Fellowships

Meredith Heagney
Law School Office of Communications
June 11, 2013

One soon-to-be Chicago Law graduate and one recent alumna are the recipients of a highly competitive fellowship that will allow them to serve Chicago communities in need for the next two years.

Sarah Staudt, ’13, and Aimee Rodriguez, ’12, have been named Equal Justice Works Fellows by the Washington, D.C.-based legal nonprofit Equal Justice Works (EJW). The organization awarded just 57 fellowships this year out of a pool of 425 applicants. The fellowships are designed to support talented, service-minded young lawyers as they dedicate their time and energy to helping the country’s most vulnerable and underserved populations.

“We’re so proud of Sarah and Aimee,” said Susan Curry, Director of Public Interest Law and Policy. “It’s particularly gratifying to have two of our students receive EJW fellowships in a single season. It’s a very prestigious and worthy program, and I know they’ll excel in it.”

Staudt will work at Lawndale Christian Legal Center in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood, which represents people under 25 from the neighborhood who are charged with a crime or otherwise involved with the criminal justice system. There is a lot of work to do; 1,500 youth in North Lawndale are arrested annually, and more than 70 percent of the neighborhood youth live in poverty. The center takes a holistic approach, employing a social worker and offering help for educational, behavioral, and family issues. Staudt will be the third lawyer on staff, heading up a new juvenile court division for youth ages 13 to 17, and working to connect attorneys at law firms with pro bono opportunities in North Lawndale. Her boss will be Cliff Nellis, ‘00, who co-founded the center in 2009. The fellowship is sponsored by Mayer Brown and Discover Inc.

“This is my dream job. I’m over-the-moon excited,” said Staudt, who added that, because her cases will be in juvenile court, she has the opportunity to focus on rehabilitation and getting at-risk kids out of the system early. “Kids who end up in juvenile detention have strikingly worse outcomes then kids who don’t. I want to help prevent that.”

Rodriguez will start her EJW Fellowship this fall at her current employer, Equip for Equality. The downtown organization advocates for the human rights and civil rights of people with disabilities. Right now, Rodriguez is on a Chicago Law public interest fellowship working on special education matters. Once she begins her EJW Fellowship, she’s going to work on behalf of students with disabilities who have recently entered the juvenile justice system and qualify for a diversion program. Rodriguez will work with those students to make sure they have the academic and behavior supports they need in school to stay out of court in the future. She’ll represent them in various capacities at their schools, from expulsion hearings to meetings to work on Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). The students she’ll help will have emotional disorders, mental health challenges, physical limitations, and learning disabilities, she said. Her sponsors are Kirkland & Ellis and the Aon Corporation.

“I’ve always been committed to working on education issues because of my own experiences growing up in an immigrant family in Chicago and knowing firsthand that education can open up a lot of doors,” she said. “I truly want to increase educational opportunities for all students, including those with disabilities.”

Both Staudt and Rodriguez worked in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Project within the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic.

Staudt, a graduate of the College, also spent a summer in the Federal Defender office in Sacramento, California, and has served for four years on the board of Brent House Episcopal Ministry at the University. Recently, she was part of a two-person team that won the Hinton Moot Court Competition, a yearlong event that tests students’ written and oral advocacy skills.

Rodriguez has a long history of mentoring minority and low-income youth through various programs and organizations. She has a master’s degree from the Harvard Kennedy School and worked for Chicago Public Schools, where she focused on education reform. During Law School, she worked at both Equip for Equality and the Legal Assistance Foundation (LAF). In her 3L year, Rodriguez was recognized with a PILS Award (that’s Public Interest Law Society) for all her work.

Staudt and Rodriguez are wonderful examples of the Law School’s public interest-minded students, Curry said.

“Sarah and Aimee are going to put their talent, extensive legal knowledge, and hard work to good use for Chicago’s most vulnerable populations, which is what our alumni do all over the country and the world,” she said. “They are proof that public interest work is challenging, fulfilling, and critically important.”

Susan J. Curry